Friday, December 30, 2011

Let's talk about Boobs, baby, let's talk about you and me....

I've been thinking a lot about them lately.  Mostly because I'm approaching the end of my chemo, which means that I have started thinking about reconstruction surgery.  I've been having very conflicting emotions and feelings about the surgery.  My plastic surgeon says this should be the fun part, to look forward to after all the crappy stuff is over.  And I AM looking forward  to having this tissue expander out of me, even though it only bothers me occasionally.  I had one fill already, and despite my doctor and husband's recommendation, I really don't think I want to go any bigger.  So this means that I will have one more fill and then I can do my reconstruction.

It's funny how much different this process feels on the other side of  my mastectomy.  Prior to, I was constantly annoyed by my boobs; they were saggy, droopy and stretch-marked.  They were the one thing I couldn't do to improve by exercise or determination alone.  If I wanted nicer boobs, I would need surgery.  I waffled on this point quite frequently.  On the one hand, it would be nice not to have to put a bra on in the morning before I went down to meet my houseguests or neighbors. On the other hand, I was approaching 40, married, and really didn't have any reason to need to have perky naked boobs.  Plastic surgery at this point in my life seems a little pointless.

Still, it was one of those things that vexed me when I looked at myself in the mirror.  When I found out that I had breast cancer, and further, that I would need a mastectomy, I thought...I finally have a good reason to get a boob job!  Yey! Perkier boobs!  What I didn't realize until afterwards is that reconstruction is not the same as renovation or augmentation.  When I am done with all this, I will have what looks like a boob, but is definitely NOT a boob.

As I am nearing the end of my chemo, and life is treating me a little more gently, I've been lucky enough to feel better and be more active.  I'll be bee-bopping through my day (well, I'm not QUITE up to bee-bopping, but considering the previous state it sure feels like I am).  Anyway, I'll be going about my day, and I'll see something pink, or related to breast cancer and it hits me like an electric shock...I had cancer. I had CANCER!  They cut off a piece of me.  I will never have a left breast that feels like a real breast.  In fact I really have NO idea what it will look and feel like when I'm done.  Right now, I can flex my boob!  Since the tissue expander is under my pectoral muscle, if I'm doing something athletic, I can get my boob to flex.  It looks totally bizarre.  I wonder to myself, will it do this after my surgery, too?  I have to think it will.  I have to admit, it kind of gives me the willies, but there is nothing I can really do about it.

After all that, they will perk up my righty.  I'm so glad I decided to keep it, it reminds me of what a breast should feel like.  But after my surgery, this one will be scarred, too.  It makes me nervous now to take the risk of losing the boobiness of my remaining boob.  In the process of getting my perkier boobs, I might lose some more sensation, and deal with more scars.  Ultimately I'll have something entirely new to call my own. I realize I can't just get one done and not the other...well, I CAN, but it seems a bit stupid to come all this way and not get a matched set.

Still, there is a part of me that loves my old saggy untampered-with right boob.  I wish I had realized how perfect they both were before I lost them.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

new hair for me

I resisted the urge to make this hat for me until all other christmas knitting and tasks had been completed. I've been dying to make it for about 2 weeks, ever since I found the pattern.  It turned out awesome, though I'm still ambivalent about how long the tassels are. But, I wore it out today for lunch with a friend, and then to my mom's and they both loved it.  Then I talked my mom into taking me to the local yarn show where I bought two skeins of malabrigo ultra soft merino wool to make a striped version of this, which I saw on ravelry and instantly loved.  I love this pattern because it makes me look and feel like I actually have hair again.  You can't tell in this picture but this yarn in Lion Brand homespun has all colors in it, brown, pink, blue, green, tan, etc. It goes with everything!  The only problem I am finding is that it is shedding a bit less than my dog.  I'm hoping that lessens up a bit, but if not, I may need to braid the tassels instead to keep them inline.  we'll see how it goes.

This led me to the blog of the woman in the Czech Rep. who created the pattern and she has awesome stuff there, too.  I'm jealous, I wish I could knit that prolifically.  She, of course has a totally awesome hat posted there today that I cannot for the life of me figure out how she knit it. Here is the link for her blog if you are interested in this hat or in any of the other stuff she's made.  it's way cool.

Now, unfortunately, I must put the malabrigo aside momentarily while I work on a post Christmas project for a friend that I must get out of the way before I do anything else.  ~sigh~


Saturday, December 24, 2011

The True Meaning of Life

“We are but visitors on this planet. We are here for ninty or one hundred years at the very most. During that period, we must try to do something good, something useful with our lives. If you contribute to other people's happiness, you will find the true goal, the true meaning of life.” 

―HH Dalai Lama XIV

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


"Listen! the teacher of the teacher, the creativity of the universe,
In the midst of his uncontrived audience,
According to this inner source of all contrived quintessential teachings,
Describes how everything appears,
When you have understood the united frame of reference of this core teaching,
All other frames of reference will be reflected within this creativity that makes everything else possible.
Thus, if you know me -- the intelligence of the universe --
You will know the inconceivable truth.
If you know me -- the majestic creativity within everything --
You will know and be at peace with the reality of everything else."
Longchenpa "You are the Eyes of the World", translated by Kennard Lipman and Merrill Petersen, Snow Lion, 2000

A few years ago, after a very crazy few weeks at work, and a particularly stressful Tuesday, I was pulling out my hair and hating my life.  I went to yoga class that night and as I lay on the mat, the teacher started talking about something she had read, a yogic concept of Santosha. 

 I had never heard the word before, but as she explained what Santosha meant, I realized that was EXACTLY the thing I needed at that very moment in my life.  From that day on, Santosha became my mantra, my way of dealing with the uncontrollable craziness all around me.  I have it written on my white board at my work cubicle and occasionally, people will stop by and ask me what it means, and I will do my best to explain it to them.  Then, when we meet again in a crazy moment, we can smile at each other and say, "Santosha", and be at peace.

I googled a few definitions of Santosha, because I've been feeling very much anti-santosha lately, with the holiday season approaching, the uncertainty of what my next few months will bring, and I realized that I was losing my grasp on the concept.  Here are some examples of what people think Santosha means.

Santosha is a Sanskrit word meaning- living in a state of contentment

Santosha is the ability to flow in life and not struggle, contentment; 

Contentment is variously described, but can be thought of as not coveting more than you have and is therefore very different to the way some modern western societies encourage the population to acquire more 'stuff' to achieve contentment. 

Santosha: means contentment. It is very easy to say, 'I am happy as I am', but are we really happy as we are? If we are happy why are we fighting with ourselves, with our egos? Why are we struggling to find further happiness in life?

Santosha: Being content with what is, accept what is; make the best out of everything. The practice of gratitude and joyfulness; remaining calm with success or failure. A state of mind that is not dependent on any outer feedback or event.

I don't know that I can add too much more to what is here.  I know what Santosha means, and like Yoga, it is a daily practice to make sure that we can appreciate the concept and incorporate it into our daily lives.  

I know that I've been letting the 'dark side' of things take hold of me a little more lately, but as in the Chinese Yin and Yang, there is room for dark things within the concept of Santosha, as with light, both are present, and we need to bring those things into ourselves, examine them, and then let them go, ready for the next moment to present itself.

So for now, I wish you peace ~om shanti~ and santosha

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


"...but I fear
I have nothing to give
I have so much to lose
here in this lonely place..." Sarah Mclachlan

I think the hardest thing about this whole experience is the fear. 
There is fear of the known - I have an aggressive type of cancer that could recur and kill me. I have to go in every three weeks and have them poison me in order to try and make that first fear not happen. 
Worse I think is fear of the unknown: I have a friend a little younger than me who experienced cancer back in college.  Now she is facing open heart surgery because her radiation treatment ruined her heart valve. I just had my 2nd MUGA scan to make sure that my heart is still handling the drugs they are giving me, but congestive heart failure is a possibility as a result of my treatments.

I made the mistake of reading the MSN list of people who died in 2011.  I didn't count, but it seemed to me like a whole bunch of them died from some cancer or another.

A Cancer diagnosis throws death right in your face.  Even though my diagnosis was "good" (is that an oxymoron?) I still had to wrestle with the fact that I have a disease that could kill me in a thousand different ways.  I know that most of these fears are not realistic, I have a reasonably good long term prognosis. But, in the middle of the night, when you are the only one awake, these fears take hold of you.

I'm afraid I won't see my son graduate from college, or get married and have children.
I'm afraid that my hair will grow back all wispy and grey and I will look like an old lady at 40.
I'm afraid that my marriage will not survive the stress of this experience.
I'm afraid I'll never feel sexy in a low cut blouse again - to me, there is nothing remotely attractive about the robo-boob artifice of muscle and silicone and ink.  I know the boob is gone forever.
I fear that when the time comes for me to go back to my 'normal' life...i.e. the one I was living before I got my diagnosis, that it won't be able to live up to my expectations of what my new life post-cancer should be.
I'm afraid my nails will turn black and fall off during this treatment, and that I will lose feeling in my fingers and toes and never get them back.

In the end, I know that I will live through these fears, some will come to pass, some will not, and I will figure out how to incorporate the new reality of my life and move on.  But, still....there are those moments in the middle of the night....

"You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I have lived through this horror.  I can take the next thing that comes along'. You must do the thing you think you cannot do." -Eleanor Roosevelt.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Grey Street

"...And she thinks...hey
How did I come to this?
I dreamed myself a thousand times around the world
But I can't get out of this place.
There's an emptiness inside her
And she'd do anything to fill it in
But all the colors mix together
To grey, 
and it breaks her heart....

She feels like kicking out all the windows
And setting fire to this life
She could change everything about her
Using colors bold and bright
But all the colors mix together
To grey.

And it breaks her heart."

~Dave Matthews Band "Grey Street"

Complete Estrogen withdrawal is like PMS times 1000. Or the worst post-partum depression you could imagine. Or both, mixed together with super anxiety bits and a bit of chemical warfare to top it all off.  I feel like I'm losing my mind.

I've reached a point where I just want to be done with THIS.  I don't think I can knit any more hats.  I'm tired of trying to make the long hours of every day bearable, tired of driving myself crazy with the "what happens when I'm done?" refrain that goes around and around in my head.  I'm closer to the end of the cell killing chemo than the beginning, but what I've realized is that it doesn't end there. There is more and more and more and each new thing brings a host of worries and fears and change.

I'm getting through it...just barely.   I checked out the local psychiatric hospital this week (it MORE than fulfilled it's duty of looking EXACTLY like a psychiatric hospital I would never want to stay at).  One week of group therapy is not going to help me.  A padded room and a month's worth of sedation sounds nice right now, though, but I haven't found any place around here offering that! 

I had my robo-boob expanded with 60cc's of saline on Monday.  The result is now I REALLY look like I'm in the process of a breast reconstruction.  I'm still unsure what I want this thing to look like in the end.  I've had my 10 day labs done, seen my therapist, forced myself to the gym for a verrrrry slow walk on the treadmill, and adjusted my anti-depressant and anti-anxiety meds with my PA. After a mini reality check I realized that if I can't get it together myself, no one can. I know I need help sometimes. I know I need to get out more, brood less. Exercise more, worry less.  Plan some healthy meals, visit new babies, and keep up with my friends.  

This weekend I have a soccer game to watch, and my husband's family annual cookie party to attend.  

Monday, I have another "Muggle scan" MUGA scan that is.  I had my first before I started on the Adriamycin/Cytoxan round, and need another one now that I've started the Taxotere/Herceptin round.  The Adriamycin and the Herceptin can both damage the heart valves, so I have to get these periodically to make sure mine is not being damaged.  I'm still not totally clear on if they do find damage, if there is anything they can do to reverse it.  Another unknown for my big bag of things that SUCK and must therefore worry about at some point.

The following Monday, I have my 2nd treatment with Taxotere/Herceptin.  The side effects of this have been physically very mild.  The rash on my face came back and I'm missing a few more eyebrows, but it's nowhere near as powerful and uncomfortable physically as the first round of meds were.  I think that is probably part of the problem...feeling better than death leads to thinking about the future, but right now, every time I do that, I nearly's too too soon. I'm not ready to step back into my real life just yet.  I'm still trying to figure out what my real life is supposed to be.  I have the paper and the paints and the brushes, but I'm still too afraid to look at the picture that will be there when I turn the page.